Unravelling the Mystery of Parts Work: A Powerful Tool for Personal Growth and Healing
Welcome to this introduction to parts work, a therapeutic approach that helps you understand your mind and psyche by recognizing that you are made up of many different parts. Parts Work is a valuable tool in relational therapy and also trauma recovery work, as it allows you to explore and heal various aspects of yourself that may be causing distress or limiting your growth.
The purpose of this blog post is to introduce the value and importance of parts work to you, whether you are a potential or existing client of our online therapy practice. Whether you’re considering psychotherapy with me or we’ve been working together for a bit, I hope this post will provide you with an accessible and engaging overview of parts work, its benefits, and how it can support you.
What is Parts Work?
Defining Parts Work and its Roots
Parts work is a therapeutic approach that has roots in several schools of thought, including Gestalt Therapy, Internal Family Systems, Voice Dialogue, and even Jungian Archetypal work. While each school has its own methodology, parts work, as defined and used in our sessions, is a lens that helps you understand and explore the different personalities, perspectives, or aspects of your mind.
Subpersonalities and Daily Life
The concept of subpersonalities, or the many different parts within you, is central to parts work. Each of these parts has unique needs, wants, and beliefs, and they may be consciously or unconsciously helping you, keeping you stuck, or holding you back as you move through your day encountering various situations, triggers, and scenarios.
The Typical Goal of Parts Work
The primary goal of parts work is to connect and better understand (not eliminate) the many aspects within you, creating a greater sense of wholeness and aliveness in your daily life. By bringing awareness to these different parts within you – giving each a voice, learning what each needs, wants, and fears, and understanding when, how, and why each gets triggered – you become more capable of lovingly managing these aspects, expanding your capacity for creative problem-solving and overall well-being.
Examples of Disowned and Disavowed Parts
To help clarify the concept of disowned and disavowed parts, let’s consider a few examples:
- A nonbinary individual suppresses their fascination with mythology and ancient cultures because their family didn’t understand or support these interests. As a result, they focused on a traditional career path to fit in and feel secure, neglecting their passion for history, legends, and cultural exploration. This person struggled with coming out as nonbinary, fearing their family’s reaction to both their gender identity and unique interests.
- A transgender man with a deep love for dancing and expressive arts faced teasing and misunderstanding from his peers and family for being “too emotional” or “sensitive.” To gain acceptance, he pursued a career in business, even though it didn’t truly fulfill him. In doing so, he denied his artistic, expressive, and emotional side. He faced challenges in coming out as transgender and finding the courage to pursue his true passion for the arts.
- A genderqueer individual raised in a conservative environment refrained from exploring their gender identity or sexuality due to fear of disapproval from their community. They followed a “socially acceptable” path, marrying young and focusing on building a traditional family. In doing so, they ignored their unique and diverse identity, struggling to find the strength to come out and embrace their true self.
These examples illustrate that disowned and disavowed parts appear in various forms in people’s lives, based on individual experiences.
Uncovering Your Unique Parts
Discovering your unique parts is a personal, lifelong journey. To begin identifying disowned and disavowed parts within yourself, consider these thought-provoking questions:
- What situations or topics provoke strong, immediate reactions in me?
- What traits or behaviours do I strongly dislike in others?
- What am I drawn to but hesitate to pursue or embrace?
- What were my passions at ages 6, 8, 10, and 12?
Contemplating these questions can help you uncover aspects of yourself that you may have been pushed aside, enabling you to gently and consistently reconnect with those parts.
Different Approaches to Parts Work
When it comes to working with inner parts in therapy, there are several approaches, each with its own unique focus and methodology. These approaches aim to address the complexity and multifaceted nature of being human, recognizing that we all have various aspects of ourselves that may be hidden or suppressed. It is important to note that having parts does not equate to having multiple personalities but rather illustrates the diverse dimensions of our psyche.
- Ego State Work by John Watkins, Ph.D., and Helen Watkins, MA, influenced by Robin Shapiro, LICSW: Ego State Work focuses on identifying and working with different ego states or aspects of an individual’s personality. By recognizing and communicating with these states, individuals can foster internal harmony and resolve conflicts between their ego states.
- Gestalt Therapy by Fritz Perls, Ph.D.: Gestalt Therapy emphasizes the importance of personal awareness, self-expression, and the integration of different aspects of an individual’s life. It is a holistic approach that helps individuals develop insight and understanding by exploring their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in the present moment.
- Internal Family Systems (IFS) by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D.: IFS therapy is an integrative approach that acknowledges the presence of various parts within a person. It aims to establish a harmonious relationship between these parts and the person’s core Self. Through IFS, individuals can access their innate wisdom, heal their parts, and experience personal growth.
- Structural Dissociation Model by Ellert R.S. Nijenhuis, Ph.D., Ono van der Hart, Ph.D., and Kathy Steele, MN: This model posits that dissociation occurs on a continuum, with individuals experiencing varying degrees of separation between their parts. The Structural Dissociation Model aims to address the underlying issues that contribute to dissociation and promote integration and healing.
- Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment by Janina Fisher, Ph.D.: This approach focuses on helping individuals with trauma-related disorders stabilize their emotions, develop coping strategies, and establish a sense of safety. By addressing the impact of trauma on the individual’s parts, this treatment can facilitate healing and growth.
Working with your inner parts is a powerful way to uncover and embrace the diverse aspects of yourself. By exploring different therapeutic approaches, you can find the most suitable method for your unique needs and begin your journey toward healing and self-discovery.
Overcoming Inner Conflicts with Parts Work
Parts work is a powerful therapy method for addressing inner conflicts and facilitating emotional healing. By understanding and working with your parts, you can overcome self-sabotaging behaviours and navigate roadblocks in therapy.
Consider the story of one client, who sought therapy to address childhood trauma and anxiety. She was eager to process a specific memory and alleviate her anxiety symptoms. However, every time she started making progress, a distraction or blockage emerged, hindering her therapy journey.
By slowing down and exploring the parts at play, the client soon discovered that she was worried about how her healing might affect her relationship with her girlfriend. Once she acknowledged and addressed this concern, she could continue her therapy and work towards her treatment goals.
In essence, parts work can help you recognize and resolve internal conflicts, leading to a deeper understanding of yourself and more effective therapeutic outcomes.
Cultivating an Embodied Self
Acknowledging and giving space to parts that may feel threatened by therapy is crucial to creating a balanced, embodied self. It’s essential to honour these parts and address their worries, fears, or insecurities, as doing so enables smoother progress in therapy.
One familiar concept in parts work is the “inner child.” This term refers to younger versions of yourself that have experienced life from birth. You might work with one specific inner child part or different child parts, such as a baby part, toddler part, school-age part, or teenager part. These parts hold onto both happy moments and unresolved, challenging, or traumatic events. They keep these experiences safe until you’re ready to process and resolve them as an adult.
Additionally, you may develop an internalized family system, reflecting those who surrounded you during your formative years. This system is like a copy-and-paste version of the most influential people in your life, where you internalize their personality traits and characteristics. Recognizing these internalized family members can shed light on how they affect your internal parts and shape your overall sense of self.
Embracing the Power of Parts Work: A Transformative Path to Wholeness
Parts work is an indispensable and transformative tool in therapy and self-discovery. By diving deep into your internal landscape and integrating the various aspects of yourself, you can unlock your full potential, overcome internal conflicts, and foster a life of balance and harmony. I invite you to embark on the journey of exploring your unique parts and consider engaging in parts work, either independently or under the guidance of a skilled therapist. This powerful approach will not only enhance your journey toward self-awareness but also ignite a profound sense of emotional well-being, self-acceptance, and personal growth. Embrace the opportunity to unleash your true self and live a life that truly reflects your authentic identity and passions.
Disclaimer: As a registered clinical counsellor and registered psychotherapist (qualifying), I'm sharing insights on my blog for informational purposes, not professional advice or treatment. My writing aims to inspire you to consult your own healthcare or mental health provider. Remember, your decisions based on the blog content are solely your responsibility. Please explore other resources if this understanding doesn't align with your expectations. Thank you.